The second plenary session convened leaders from the U.S. government to discuss their visions for a more resilient nation. Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, moderated the session. Shah kicked off the session with this observation, “There is one certainty. [Extraordinary] events will occur and we need to be ready when they do. People count on us and we have to be there, we have to be prepared, and we have to be leaders when our communities need us.”
Dr. Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, shared his vision with the audience, “The intent isn’t to federalize everything, it’s to nationalize. So that when there’s an event, we can bring the best capabilities to the table in an effort to protect and save lives.” Dr. Kadlec’s mission for Public Health to work collaboratively across regions to build capacity to prepare for, respond to, and recover from events addresses the need to strengthen partnerships at all levels—federal, state and local. He is a firm believer in advocating for Public Health. “I would like to think that at the end of the day, my greatest role and service to this county is to be an advocate for the things you do every day. We can marshal the best that this country can bring to support you, your families, and your communities.” Other federal leaders supported Dr. Kadlec’s approach.
Jonathan Greene, deputy assistant secretary for operations support, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, echoed Kadlec’s emphasis on partnership, “It’s important to note that we are not a Public Health organization, but we value our partnership. These partnerships will allow us to improve handoffs so that we can better understand and coordinate the triggers for who is responsible for what actions and when. The goal of this is to bring people who are not natural allies and partners together, so that when we face biological terror threats, the right people are in place for the response.” The theme of reaching outside of Public Health to work together repeated throughout the session.
Daniel Kaniewski, PhD, acting deputy administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), acknowledged the impact of Hurricane Maria and shared his thoughts on how the nation needs to build a long term strategy for collaboration, “Hurricane Maria was the largest mission in FEMA history. It was the largest power restoration, ever. [We learned that the key is to] work toward a federally-supported, state-managed, locally-executed template for responding to disasters. We as a nation need to be better prepared for long term infrastructure outages. Eighty percent is owned and operated by the private sector. They are the key partner [to prepare for major events.]” Kaniewski suggested the need to create a cultural shift in the way we plan for extraordinary events.
Kaniewski also spoke to the ways in which FEMA could better support Public Health, “Moving forward, we have three strategic priorities: Fostering a culture of preparedness, readying the nation for disasters, and making FEMA processes less complex. We want to empower state and local governments to manage local disasters, and FEMA will support you.”
He also shared practical advice to the audience, “Insurance is really key, and not just flood insurance. Health insurance is critical—it’s how you recover from a disease or accident. You also need property insurance. We need to close the insurance gap. Mitigation is an investment we make ahead of time to reduce losses later. One dollar invested today in mitigation can save six dollars when disaster strikes. That’s a huge return on investment.” Kaniewski backed up his statement by sharing how FEMA would support this effort, “FEMA has a vision to quadruple the nation’s investment in mitigation in the next four years.”
Stephen Redd, MD, RADM, acting principal deputy director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke to the need to prepare for emerging events, “We have three different kinds of health emergencies: Those that are inevitable (e.g. natural disasters), those that are predicted (e.g., terrorist threats), and those that are emerging (e.g., Ebola in West Africa). Emerging events are something we should be more prepared for. The world’s population is growing and urbanizing, and there’s growth in international travel. This means transmissible disease can spread in 24-36 hours. Moving forward, we have to work on developing better countermeasures and improving data collection methods to improve real-time understanding [to build capacity to respond more quickly].” Redd emphasized the need for more accessible data to build preparedness capacity.
Shah empowered attendees to speak up on behalf of their communities, “Stories matter. Without listening, we cannot know them. We have a duty to incorporate these stories into our planning and share them with policymakers to reinforce that our work is worth funding.”
Access 2018 Preparedness Summit Resources
- Visit the Preparedness Summit website to stay up to date on when abstracts open for the 2019 Preparedness Summit and when to register.
- To access photos and presentation slides of the sessions, go to the Preparedness Summit website, click on the “Schedule of Events” tab to go to the full schedule. Log into your account by clicking “My Schedule” on the left column and click the audio icons next to each session.
Save the Date for the 2019 Preparedness Summit
Next year’s Preparedness Summit will take place March 26-29 in St. Louis, Mo.
The Preparedness Summit is the first and longest running national conference on public health preparedness. Since its beginning in 2006, NACCHO has taken a leadership role in convening a wide array of partners to participate in the summit; presenting new research findings, sharing tools and resources, and providing a variety of opportunities for attendees to learn how to implement model practices that enhance the nation’s capabilities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and other emergencies.
We hope to see you there!